A few hours after reports emerged that Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and a handful of other players recently tested positive for COVID-19, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had a somber message for fans: Get used to it.
“All of our medical experts indicated that as testing becomes more prevalent, we are going to have positive tests,” Goodell said Monday night in an ESPN interview with Mike Greenberg. “The issue is, can we obviously prevent as many of those from happening, but in addition, treat them quickly, isolate them, and prevent them from impacting other personnel?”
Meanwhile, NFL Players Association medical director Thom Mayer said Monday that the league will likely test all personnel three times per week, according to the NFL Network. That will include football personnel (players, coaches, trainers, locker room) and non-football employees, and Mayer said the hope is that an accurate saliva test will be available by the start of the season.
Anyone who tests positive will have to quarantine until they are symptom-free, but the NFL and the NFLPA have not yet officially announced the testing protocols that will be put in place this fall. The NFL is monitoring other sports to determine the appropriate level of testing (the German Bundesliga soccer league is testing its players twice per week).
The NFL will do its best to play the 2020 season as normally as possible, and it does not intend to shut down at the first sign of the coronavirus. The league will implement a strict social distancing protocol at team facilities to minimize the chances of an outbreak, and will regularly test all team personnel and quarantine when necessary.
While more than 118,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, the NFL is hopeful that the virus won’t impact its players severely. NFL players are young and generally in great health, and mostly will be playing their sport outdoors, where the virus doesn’t spread as easily.
Goodell said the players from the Cowboys and Texans who recently tested positive did not have severe symptoms.
“All of those players, fortunately, have had either mild symptoms or were asymptomatic, and I think our protocols are working,” Goodell said. “And again, we expect we are going to have positive tests. That is part of the increased testing that we will be going through.”
The NFL last week released its social distancing guidelines, which include spacing lockers 6 feet apart, eliminating buffet-style meals, and limiting workouts to small groups.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh voiced frustration over how difficult the guidelines will be to implement. But Goodell said the coaches simply will have to adapt, and that the rules will be flexible to adjust to the current state of the pandemic. The protocols were developed with help from the Centers for Disease Control and Duke University.
“One of the things that we are all going to have to do … is adapt and change and do things that we might have thought were impossible several weeks ago,” Goodell said.
“The protocols are stringent. They are designed to be that because they are for the safety of our players and personnel, including coaches. We’ll evolve as the circumstances change. We will be changing our protocols appropriately.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.